Ten Guineas on Love

Cover of Ten Guineas on Love

Description

To Charity Mayfield's shock, she discovered a year after her father's death that his debts could mean losing her home. Only by marriage could she touch her inheritance and save Hazelhurst. The only sensible candidate would be Edward, newly come into the Earldom, and the Mayfields' neighbour, so impetuously Charity wrote to propose!

But she'd made a mistake; the new earl was Jack Riversleigh, and he wasn't at all disposed to help out - which led Charity rashly to bet him that she could find a husband within a month ...

Author's note: this book was originally published under the name of Alice Thornton. The current edition is published under the name of Claire Thornton.

Ten Guineas on Love: Excerpt

Charity burst impetuously through the library door.

“Edward! I’m so pleased you could…” she stopped short.

The tall man standing by the window was not Edward Riversleigh. Edward could never have appeared so casually elegant, nor could he have imposed his presence on a room so completely that his surroundings faded into insignificance. Yet the stranger had done nothing dramatic, he had simply turned at the sound of the opening door and looked at Charity; but, as her eyes met his, she was instantly aware that he possessed an aura of strength and sophistication which seemed quite out of place in the small, comfortably shabby library.

“I…I beg your pardon, sir,” she stammered, dazedly wondering how the footman could possibly have mistaken this man for the far from grand Edward. “I was expecting someone else. How…how do you do? May I help you?” she finished rather breathlessly.

“Thank you, you are very kind,” the gentleman replied, and even in her confusion Charity could not help noticing that his voice was deep and melodious. “But I am afraid it is I who should apologize to you.”

He came towards her as he spoke and as the light from the window fell on his face she could see that he had grey eyes, a firm chin and a decisive mouth.

He halted before her and bowed courteously over the hand she instinctively offered him.

“You… you should?” Charity said, still somewhat confused by his presence, and disconcertingly aware of the firm clasp of his fingers on hers.

“Certainly.” The gentleman straightened up and released her hand. His expression was grave, but there was a distinct glint of amusement in his grey eyes as he looked at Charity, thought she was far too bewildered to notice it.

“I believe I have the honour of addressing Miss Mayfield… Miss Charity Mayfield?” he said, his eyebrow lifting enquiringly as he spoke.

“Yes, but…”

“It’s always wise to make certain of these things, don’t you think?” he continued smoothly. “My name is Jack Riversleigh.”

“Jack Riversleigh?” Charity echoed, staring up at him blankly.

“Richard’s son,” he explained. “Richard was the late Lord Riversleigh’s second son.”

“Oh!” Charity gazed, open-mouthed, at her unexpected visitor, still so stunned that it was several minutes before she understood the significance of what he had said.

“You mean you come before Edward in the succession?” she said at last.

“I’m afraid so,” he agreed.

“But I thought Richard died in disgrace years ago!” Charity burst out, losing some of her awe in her amazement at this remarkable turn of events.

Lord Riversleigh smiled.

“My father died in the most respectable of circumstances seventeen years ago,” he said. “I believe it was only the late Lord Riversleigh who held him in such aversion.”

“I’m sorry.” Charity blushed, painfully aware of what a poor impression she must be making. “I didn’t mean to be rude. It’s just that… it’s all rather surprising. Good grief!” she exclaimed suddenly. “You must have received my letter!”

“Yes, ma’am,” Jack Riversleigh said gently. “It was that which prompted my visit today. I thought, in the circumstances, you would prefer to be appraised of your misapprehension in private.”

“Oh, how dreadful!” Charity put her hands to her burning cheeks and closed her eyes, not really listening to what he was saying as she realised with horror that she had proposed marriage to a stranger!

“Come, I think you should sit down,” he said, and he guided her unresistingly to a chair. “You’ve had quite a shock.”

“No, no, I’m all right,” she said mechanically.

Her thoughts were in such a turmoil of confusion and embarrassment that she hardly knew what to say-or do-but almost instinctively she sought refuge in her role as hostess.

“I’m so sorry, I should have invited you to sit down, my lord,” she said with an attempt at polite formality, which she immediately spoiled by bursting out impetuously, “Oh, dear! You must have formed the most dreadful impression of me!”

“No.” Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, he laughed. “No, Miss Mayfield, dreadful is not the word I would have used. I apologise for startling you; I should have introduced myself less baldly.”

Charity looked at him doubtfully. Then she smiled hesitantly. Now that her first shock was receding she could see that the strength in his face was tempered by humour, and she began to feel slightly more at ease with him. She thought that perhaps it was his fine black coat which had made him seem so grand—and then realised almost immediately that he must be in mourning for his grandfather.

She felt relieved to have discovered the reason for her unexpected lack of composure earlier, and instantly resolved never to be impressed by fine clothes again. Then, just as she was about to make a polite comment on the weather, or the state of the roads, or some other bland, innocuous topic—to indicate her own level of unconcern and sophistication—it suddenly dawned on her that he was finding the situation amusing, and she began to feel flustered all over again.

She raised startled and rather alarmed eyes to his—and then began to feel more comfortable as she realised that, although he was certainly amused, he was equally definitely not gloating over her discomfiture. She even thought she detected a gleam of sympathy in his expression.

“Good,” he said when he saw she had recovered at least partially from her initial astonishment. “I was sure you would have too much presence of mind to be overset by my visit. I believe, in fairness to you, I ought to explain how this peculiar situation has arisen—if you’re interested?”

“Oh, yes!” said Charity, leaning forward eagerly and momentarily forgetting her embarrassment in her desire to find out just how it had come about that Riversleigh had been inherited by a complete stranger. “Oh, I beg your pardon.” She blushed again as she suddenly remembered all her mother’s lectures on decorum.

In a belated attempt to make amends for her unmannerly interest she sat up straight and folded her hands demurely in her lap. “I mean, thank you, that would be very kind of you.”

Jack smiled. He had been slightly concerned by Charity’s earlier evident confusion, but now that she had regained much of her composure his amusement at the situation in which he found himself had revived, though he was careful not to show it too openly.

“Well, as I said before,” he began, “my father, Richard, was the late Lord Riversleigh’s second son, and Edward’s father was his third son. But my father left Riversleigh thirty years ago, and when he did so Lord Riversleigh declared that as far as he was concerned he now had only two sons—Richard was dead to him.”

“How inhuman!” Charity gasped, her eyes fixed on Jack’s face, her dark curls dancing with indignation. “I never liked him! He behaved most unkindly to Edward for no good reason at all. Was there any reason for him to dislike you papa? Oh, dear! I mean… I mean…” She floundered to a halt, uncomfortably aware that once again she had allowed her tongue to run away with her.

“No,” said Jack. “My father refused to be ruled by my grandfather, but he never behaved dishonourably.”

“I never suspected he did!” Charity exclaimed indignantly. “Lord Riversleigh disliked Edward for being conscientious in his studies—and if that isn’t a crackbrained attitude for a guardian to hold I don’t know what is!”

“Quite.” Jack’s lips twitched, but he maintained an admirable gravity. “Anyway, my father married my mother not long after he left Riversleigh and, no doubt much to Lord Riversleigh’s annoyance, I was one of the consequences.”

“Did he know you existed?” Charity asked curiously. The workings of the late Lord Riversleigh’s mind had always been a mystery to her; she had never understood how he could be so cruel to those who should be closest to him.

“Oh, yes,” Jack replied. “I met him once, after my father died. I made it my business to do so—I wanted to know what kind of man he was—but when he discovered who I was he refused to acknowledge me. It didn’t greatly concern me. I had no idea that I might eventually succeed him.”

“Nor had anyone else,” said Charity. “At least… Edward didn’t know, did he?”

“No,” Jack said. “I believe my grandfather gave orders that my father’s name was never to be mentioned again. Over the years people must have forgotten, and even those who did know wouldn’t have spoken of the matter.”

“Of course not,” said Charity. “He could be quite… Poor Edward; I wonder what he’ll do now.”

In her first amazement she had not considered how Edward must feel about the whole thing, but now she felt sad that once more he had been unlucky. She stood up and walked over to the window, looking out at the holly tree that stood up against the blue sky beyond.

“You mustn’t think I’m not pleased for you, my lord,” she said. “But it must have been rather hard on Edward. Not that he wanted the title, but even if he hadn’t accepted my propo—I mean, at the very least the revenues of the estate could probably have provided him with a trip to Rome… Where is he?”

She swung round to face Jack as she suddenly realised that, interesting though all of this was, she still didn’t have the one piece of information which was essential for the success of her plans.

“I’m afraid he’s already on his way to Italy,” Jack said quietly, watching Charity’s face carefully as he spoke.

He suspected that this news would be a great disappointment to her and, though he was not above being amused by the situation, he was reluctant to give her tidings which he was afraid would cause her real distress.

“Italy? But how on earth…?”

“As you said, it was something he’d wanted to do for a long time,” Jack continued smoothly. “I believe when he had the opportunity the excitement drove all other thoughts from his head. I’m sure he’ll be writing to you soon.”

“You mean, someone’s going to help him in his efforts to become an architect?” Charity asked incredulously.

“Yes.”

“Oh, I’m so glad!” she exclaimed, forgetting her own problems in her relief at Edward’s good fortune. “He’s worked so hard, and had so little support. He’ll enjoy that much more than being Lord Riversleigh!”

“I hope so,” said Jack, relieved at Charity’s reaction.

“He will,” Charity assured him. “Last time I saw him he insisted on reading me extracts from a book he’d just acquired about the ruins of some palace at Spal… Spally…”

“Spalatro,” Jack supplied. “I believe you mean the book by Robert Adam on ‘The Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro in Dalmatia’.”

“That’s it!” said Charity. “How on earth did you know?”

“I’ve read it,” said Jack apologetically.

“Oh.” She looked at him blankly. “Are you an architect too, sir?”

“No, but I’ve always been interested in a variety of different crafts. It’s important not to have too narrow a viewpoint,” Jack said, and changed the subject abruptly. “At the risk of being impertinent, may I ask you a question, Miss Mayfield?”

“Of course. What is it?” Charity glanced at him apprehensively, suddenly reminded that he had read her letter and consequently knew far more about her than she might have wished.

“Are you very disappointed by the turn of events?” he asked. “As I’m sure you’ve realised, I’m afraid I read your letter. I must apologise for that—I don’t make a habit of reading other people’s correspondence, and I assure you I will treat what I read in confidence but at first I didn’t quite know what to make of it.” He paused.

“No, I understand,” said Charity; she looked down at her hands, feeling very self-conscious.

“I hope so. When I realised you’d intended it for Edward I would have forwarded it to him unread, but it seemed as if you needed his assistance urgently because he was Lord Riversleigh, so I hoped that I might be able to help instead. I’m sorry that I can’t. But if you wish I’ll do everything in my power to get your message to him as soon as possible.”

“Thank you,” she said. “But it would be too late. Edward was my first choice, but I daresay I can manage without him. I shall just have to look about me again.”

“You mean, you’re going to ask someone else to marry you?” Jack had been leaning back negligently in his chair, but he sat up straight at this.

“No,” said Charity. “Unfortunately Edward is the only man I know who can be relied upon to be sensible about such things. Next time I must try to persuade them to propose to me.”

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